Playground safety extends far beyond planning and Build Day. Your team is responsible for setting guidelines for the ongoing TLC of your playspace, as well as setting some playground rules.
Creating a set of rules – preferably affirmative ones – is a crucial part of playspace safety. Start with these rules and then encourage children to come up with their own! Consider making a sign of these rules.
Use these simple tips to educate parents and guardians about their role in playspace safety.
Tip: When you picture your new playspace, do you see cigarette butts and plastic bags littering the site? Do you envision muddy streaks or moldy patches on the slides and tunnels? Of course not! Although it may seem minor, keeping the playspace clean is the first and most important line of defense against misuse, vandalism and deterioration.
Many old, run-down playspaces have fallen through administrative cracks for one simple reason — nobody knows who's in charge. Therefore, any comprehensive maintenance plan should assign responsibility for the different aspects of playspace upkeep and management. When creating your management plan, bring in all playspace stakeholders, and be sure to reach agreement on these important questions:
It's everyone's worst nightmare...waking up one morning to find that your new playspace has been destroyed by vandalism or arson. There are planning considerations that can minimize the potential for damage – such as installing non-flammable engineered wood fiber – but ultimately, all playspaces are vulnerable. The single best way to protect your playspace from vandals is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Install overhead lights to discourage after-hours loitering, and report any undesirable behavior to authorities immediately, before it becomes habitual. Keep the area clean and free of litter. Get the neighbors involved – set up volunteer patrols on weekend nights, particularly during warm months. Ask the local police department to include the area in their regular rounds, and consider reaching out to potential vandals through positive youth programming. A park in Encinitas, Calif. installed R.V. hookups so that a senior citizen couple could live there free of charge, monitoring the park and making families welcome.
Even with the best prevention program, bad things can still happen to good parks. Respond immediately by cleaning up, re-painting, or re-building. It's still your park, so never give up on it! Including the entire community, including vandals and other past offenders, in the community-build process helps to give them a sense of ownership over the space and prevents future problems. Consider engaging local graffiti artists to design a mural to give them an opportunity to showcase their talents in a responsible way.
Show vandals that your will to rebuild is stronger than their will to destroy. Juanita Hatton of the Citizens' Congress of Nicetown (in Philadelphia) saw her playground destroyed three times, and each time she rebuilt. When people asked her why she kept going, she told them that she would outlast the vandals, because she believed in something. And she was right.
Thanks to your efforts, your community is now a better place for children and their families. Great work! You've shown people what can happen when citizens fight for positive change, and you've created a working model for future projects. To make sure that these seeds of change grow and blossom in the years ahead, we suggest taking a few simple steps toward maintaining your playspace and its network of supporters:
Introduce children to their new playspace.
As the concrete sets on your new playspace, kids will be eagerly waiting to pounce on the new equipment. Make sure that the kids stay off the equipment until the concrete has had time to set—up to 72 hours in some cases. Safety fencing and caution tape provide a barrier during this time, but supervision is also essential. Swings, slides and climbers need no introduction! However, children may not understand the limits of their new playspace. We've encouraged you to give safety and maintenance lessons throughout the project, and this is your last chance to reinforce rules and procedures before unsafe habits get underway. Work with your co-chair(s) and Children's Team captain to schedule a special playspace-orientation session that covers affirmative rules for the space, emergency procedures and simple daily maintenance. Then celebrate your success the right way...by playing!
Send thank-you letters.
Can you think of people who deserve a special thank-you for their hard work and support? Let them know! By taking the time to recognize them and make them feel appreciated, you ensure that they'll stay involved in your community in the future. For many people, the thrill of participating in a playspace build is the start of a lifelong commitment to service.
Evaluate your planning process.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently? What worked, and what flopped? Your experience will prove invaluable to community organizers down the road, so take the time to record your team's thoughts. (You'll find an evaluation form below.)
Contribute to a "Friends of the Playspace" group.
Your co-chair(s) or fellow team captains may be interested in forming an ongoing group to support your new playspace. Safety Team members can contribute by implementing maintenance procedures, maintaining relationships with sponsors and volunteers, and teaching each new generation of playspace users about proper safety.
The group will also need your safety expertise if and when they make plans to expand the playspace or enhance the site. Whatever future your playspace holds, safety will be an important part of it!
Congratulations on completing your build! You’ve made a big difference in the lives of your community members.
Name of Team Captain: